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You Can Make-Believe Your Way Into Your Dreams

A little over a year ago, I became a best selling author on Amazon. I sold 1,007 books in 30 days and hit #1 in the Authorship category.

And when I looked back at what, specifically, I did to make it happen, I was surprised (but not all that surprised) to find out it was mostly the acting as if stuff that helped me manifest it.

Yes, I already had a following and other books out and momentum. But I’d had that for years. It wasn’t until I started to pretend I was already the successful writer and author that I dreamed of being and taking action from that place did things like hitting #1 start to happen to me.

Here’s the cool thing about creating your writing dreams: you can pretend your way into them.

You can figure out where you want to go in your writing life, and then you can make a list of all the things you’d be doing and being if you were already that person, and then you can go and take as many of those actions as possible, as if you already are that person.

Just like you played make-believe as a kid and pretended you were a teacher or a mom/dad or an actor or a cowboy or a princess or whatever you liked to pretend to be (for me it was always teacher, artist and storyteller). You can do that right now with your dream writing life.

Here’s an example:

When I’m developing and planning a new story and I’m ready to write the first draft, I always build a Scrivener file for it. First I create two folders inside the file: 1) Written 2) To Be Written. Then I add a text file for each scene in the order they’re listed in on my roadmap to the “To Be Written” folder. And if I know the name of the story already, I’ll put it on the title page and rename the manuscript as well.

This is my starting place. And then I marinate.

I’ve got the story in my head and the plan down on paper. I’ve been thinking about it, marinating on it, and pulling out pieces and writing them down as they come through for weeks, if not months.

And having the Scrivener file all set up and ready to go really stirs up the inspiration. I find myself waking up in the morning with the opening lines for the story or a particular scene dancing through my head. Ready to come out.

Then I sit in front of the blank Scrivener file and I channel the words down to the page.

Before setting up the Scrivener file, I have no idea what words to use, they just won’t come out. But by pretending I already have the words and setting up the Scrivener file like I’m ready to start writing, the words come to me. Every single time.

Because I’m acting as if. I’m make-believing that I know what to write, and so I do the things I know I’d be doing if I already had the words: set up my Scrivener file.

I have a story plan, OF COURSE, I won’t write without one. But the story plan–while insanely useful–doesn’t tell me the specific words I need to write. It only informs me of what the story is about and what has to happen in each scene.

The words are a whole other beast.

So I use the acting as if principle to make the words come to me. I do this for my novels and for my blog posts and my nonfiction and even for the writing I do for my clients. I even have a client who I’m so in-tune with, when I’m writing her email copy I feel like her voice is being channeled through me. (It’s pretty freaking cool!!)

A little over a year ago, I started to pretend I was already a best selling author. I committed to writing and publishing 9 books that year. I opened myself to the idea of becoming a best seller and receiving the inspired actions to take.

Most importantly, I declared it publicly to my community that I was going to be a best selling author on Amazon in 2016. And to hold myself accountable to it, I started a group called the Bestselling Author Mastermind and I told everyone they could watch me hit #1 and I’d talk them through everything I was doing and how I was doing it.

So when my new eBook hit #1 on Amazon a week after creating this group and declaring publicly that I was gonna be a best seller, I was surprised, but, again, not all that surprised.

Because I acted my way into it.

I pretended it was already true and I took action from that place.

If I was already a best selling author on Amazon, I’d most definitely have a group where I showed people what I did and how to do it, as well as held them accountable to taking action in their own writing lives. So that’s what I did. I started the group and showed them live in real time how I became a best selling author.

When you start to let go of how you’ve always been told you should achieve things and start opening your mind to using universal laws to create what you want, you’ll be amazed at how much easier everything becomes.

Now don’t get me wrong–you still have to put in the work. I was able to easily manifest best seller status because I had built up so much momentum over the years. I just wasn’t open to receiving it until then.

But my point in all of this, is that you can very easily act your way into the writing life you’ve always dreamed of. You just have to step into the identity of who that writer and author would be right now.

It’s up to you whether you take baby steps or huge leaps. Both ways work and both ways will bring you closer and closer to being that writer and author you’ve always seen yourself as.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. Doors to the Bestselling Author Mastermind are NOW OPEN to new members!!!! BAM is my high-level support group for multi-passionate writers and authors who want to have the habits, mindset, craft expertise, consistency and follow-through of a bestselling author, while writing and publishing their books and creating their dream writing lives all on their terms.

I’m SO pumped to welcome the new members to the group. I’ve just filled the member’s site with a ton of new content, including all of my most recent workshops. This is the BEST the member’s site has ever been.

See EVERYTHING you get in the member’s site, get the full details on the membership and sign up for the group here: www.jenniferblanchard.net/landing/mastermind

How To Go From Idea to Published Novel: A Timeline

NOTE: This is a guest post from my client, Zara Quentin, who just published her debut novel, Airwoman. Enjoy! –jen

How long does it take to write a novel? Years? Decades? You’ve probably been writing for some time–you may even have more than one ‘bottom-drawer’ novel (AKA: practice novel), right?

That’s how it was for me—years of writing drafts I couldn’t bring myself to revise, because I didn’t think it was worth the time or the energy.

In 2015, all that changed. I decided I was going to publish a book in 2016. I’d been fooling around with my writing dream for years, expecting a published novel to be many more years in the making—if it ever happened at all.

I remember making that decision—it changed the way I thought about writing.

Here is a timeline of how I wrote and published, Airwoman: Book 1:

The First Three Months: Idea to Planning (August to October 2015)

I distinctly remember getting the idea for Airwoman. My main character, Jade Gariq (though I didn’t know her name back then), came to me one dark and stormy night in mid-August 2015. She perched on my windowsill, wings and all. She was running from something, seeking refuge. She intrigued me.

Soon after that, in early September, Story Coach, Jennifer Blanchard, ran a free 7-day story planning challenge in the 1% Writers Facebook Group (which I’m a member of) and I started to flesh out my idea based on the character who had visited me that night. I really enjoyed the challenge and decided I’d try NaNoWriMo, which was a few months away. So when Jennifer opened up her NaNoWriMo 6-week story development course, I decided to get on board.

It was around this time that I made the decision to publish my novel in 2016. Call it a mid-life crisis moment, but I suddenly realized that, after having my third child, life wasn’t going to get any less busy. Not in the short term. If I wanted to pursue my writing, I just had to do it. I had to make time for it.

A few days after I’d made that decision, I got an email from Jennifer, revealing her Novel By Next Year course, which involved having her as a coach and guide through the planning, drafting and publishing stages.

It felt like fate. I was in.

So for the rest of September and October, I planned Airwoman: Book 1 until I had a scene roadmap of the entire novel. I had never planned to this extent before—but instead of being bored by the planning, it made me excited to get started writing.

At the end of October, I moved (somewhat unexpectedly) with my family from New Zealand (where we had been living for two years) back to Australia. With three young children, and a house full of stuff, it was full on. In consultation with Jennifer, I put the roadmap aside for a couple of weeks, let NaNoWriMo pass me by, and focused on the move.

Sometimes, life happens, right?

First Draft – Facing the Blank Page (November 2016 – January 2016)

It was about mid-November before I was able to focus on writing again. I took a week or so to look over my scene roadmap again and tweak it in a few places. Then I took a deep breath and dove into writing the first draft.

The first draft is a daunting time for a writer–facing the blank page. However, with a detailed roadmap, it was easier than ever. I didn’t wonder what to write in the next scene. Instead, I thought about the detail of it. I watched the movie of the scene inside my head, then transcribed it onto the page.

And so I wrote. Every day.

Every single day for about two months. I wrote every evening after the kids had gone to bed, during their nap-time (if they went down). I snatched whatever time I could for writing.

I had a goal of writing 500 words per day at least–a small goal, not too daunting. Usually once 500 words is written, I’ll write a lot more. But on an off-day, I gave myself permission to hit 500 words then stop.

I finished the first draft just after New Year, in early January 2016. The first draft came out to about 80,000 words.

My Manuscript Rested – I Did Not (January – February 216)

Although I already had some ideas about how I could improve my first draft, I was determined to give the manuscript a proper rest so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. I had a six week break before I read through it again.

But I was not idle during this time.

Instead, I set up my author website, a blog and my social media accounts. I developed my brand and the focus for my blog. I worked on, not just creating the platforms, but being active on those forums regularly.

I announced to the world I was a writer and that I was publishing a book. This took a lot of courage–finally confessing to being a writer and giving myself a public deadline.

Suddenly, my decision back in September 2015 seemed to loom. October wasn’t all that far away and I had to finish a book. A whole book! What was I thinking?

Taking A Deep Breath. And Plunging Into Revisions (March to June 2016)

In March, I dared to read through my first draft. Happily, it wasn’t as bad as I feared, though it definitely needed work.

During the first draft phase, Jennifer had been reading through my draft week by week and sending feedback, which I’d held over for the revision phase as I’d wanted to just get the first draft down on the page. She then read through the whole draft again and provided me with copious notes, which I put together with my own to make my revision schedule.

After a first read through, I read it again and made more notes about what needed to change. Then I made a revision roadmap—listing each scene, the changes that needed to be made and a timeline of events. I also drew up some maps of my story world, which helped me to keep track of the action throughout the story.

I learned a lot from the revision process. Firstly, though I would consider world-building to be one of my strengths, more often than not, it didn’t make its way onto the page. I often had my characters moving through a blank canvas and, though I saw the backdrop in my head, readers wouldn’t have that advantage. During my revisions, I needed to set the scene.

I also had to flesh out characterization and character motivations in some cases. A few events needed to be switched around or fleshed out for greater impact.

I also learned that revision wasn’t a chore of a task, as I had always imagined it would be. I actually enjoyed the opportunity to improve the story. That became my goal—working out how to make the story better.

Once I had completed the revision roadmap, I dove into the redraft (the second draft). During this phase, I went through my manuscript scene by scene, taking what I could from the first draft and altering, rewriting or scrapping things depending on what needed to be done. This took most of March and April.

Once that was finished, I read it through again and fixed some consistency errors, made a few more tweaks.

Then, as luck would have it, at the end of June, my family and I had to move interstate (again, somewhat unexpectedly). That took another couple of weeks out of the writing process as I managed yet another move. Luckily, I was in a position to send what I considered the third draft to a developmental editor and some Beta Readers.

An Outside Opinion: Biting My Fingernails and More Revision (July to September 2016)

It was a nerve-wracking time, sending out my manuscript to people I didn’t know and who hadn’t been with me on this journey so far. When they didn’t immediately get back to me, I feared the worst. What if they hated it and were trying to find a way to phrase it nicely? I had to remind myself that they also had busy schedules.

In the meantime, I started to liaise with to my cover designer. It was an interesting process because-–despite wanting something amazing–I really had no idea of what I wanted on the cover. My cover was in his hands! Thankfully, he came back with a number of ideas, which we then discussed so that he understood what I liked and didn’t like, and where we would go with it.

One-by-one, at the end of July and early August, the editor and Beta Readers came back to me with their comments. Despite my fears, their feedback was encouraging. They’d liked the story, but showed me ways to improve it. I really grew as a writer through this feedback. In pointing out where the manuscript needed improvement, I learned both what I’m good at, and what I need to work on. Their advice helped me to improve Airwoman, but I believe it will also help me to improve my future writing too.

At this point, I set down to revise my manuscript again, and also set a date for publication: October 25th! The date loomed on my calendar as I realized how little time there was left.

I revised through August until I felt the manuscript didn’t need any more tweaking. In early September, I got to proofreading. In September, I also worked with the cover designer to finalize the cover. At the end of September the final manuscript went to the formatter to format it for print and Kindle.

a4-airwoman-coverAll Systems Go for Launch (October 2016)

When I picked October 25 for the publication date, I had hoped to have a month to promote the book before it came out. In the end, I had about three weeks as I waited until the final cover, the pre-order was set up on Amazon (along with relevant links) and a free preview was available on my site.

During this time, I went back and forth with the formatter, making sure the interior was as I wanted it, and correcting those last typos (always some!). I set up my author profile on Amazon and Goodreads. I also started blogging about the inspiration behind my book, sharing photos and contacting book bloggers and reviewers to garner interest in reviewing it.

I set up a Virtual Launch Party on Facebook and did some guest posting, trying to get word out about my novel. The marketing was new for me, but I found I enjoyed it—it was a challenge to think about ways to promote my book.

Finally, the big day came. I held my book in my hands. It went out into the world where other people could read it. It was the height of vulnerability—allowing complete strangers to read and comment on my book which, as every writer would know, is like baring their very soul for others to comment o.

But I did it. In a little over a year, I published my debut novel, Airwoman: Book 1. It felt so good.

That’s Just the Beginning

It was one hell of a year! I’ve grown more in the last year as a writer, than I had in the many years of writing before that. By finally giving myself permission to invest in my dream, I took a big leap in learning—about story craft, about myself as a writer and about the publication process. I’m very lucky that I had Jennifer Blanchard to hold my hand throughout the process. Without her, I doubt I would have come so far so soon. Having someone to bounce ideas off, read my work, encourage and guide me has been invaluable.

I’m pleased to have achieved my goal, but this is not the end. I’m not a one-book writer. Obviously Airwoman: Book 1 is the first in a series. I’ve got a series overview fleshed out and have planned the second book. I’m itching to get started on it.

The writer’s journey is an exciting ride, and I’m only at the beginning.

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How far along are you on your writer journey? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

About the Author: Zara Quentin is the author of Airwoman: Book 1. She inherited a love of travel from her parents, who took her and her sister on trips to the United States, Europe, and Asia as children. Zara now resides in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. She is currently working on the next instalment in the Airwoman series. You can read the first three chapters of Airwoman for free here.

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If you want help taking your story from idea to published, just like Zara did, be sure to apply to work with me and my team of self-publishing pros. You can fill out the application here.

How To Plan Your NaNoWriMo Novel In 15-Minute Sessions

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? I’m doing my own version of NaNo in November and revising the draft I finished earlier this year.

I’ve been going through my first draft, reading and re-reading and making notes for changes, and then creating scene cards to make my post-draft story roadmap more portable. And as I’ve been doing this, I’ve felt SO grateful for having taken the time to plan and develop my story before I wrote it.

This draft is total crap as far as the writing goes. But the story? The story is there. Sure, I’m finding ways to optimize things, and moving things around and changing stuff, but overall the story is still the same as it was when I wrote the draft.

Because I didn’t use my draft as a way to search for my story (I’ve tried it that way, it always results in epic failure for me), so my draft is actually a story.

This is a big deal, because it’s making my revision process much easier and less frustrating. And I totally expect to get it all finished during November. That may seem crazy (although if you’ve hung around me long enough you know I like crazy), but when you do enough planning ahead of time, you can write a first draft that doesn’t suck.

Which means my second draft is much easier to revise.

I’d say I’m able to save about 75% of my original draft (the story, not necessarily the way I wrote it). For me, revisions are more about infusing the narrative with characterization and description, for improving dialogue and making sure I’m showing more than telling.

I’m not ripping apart the story or fixing major plot holes or anything like that. Because I work that shit out first.

If you’re attempting NaNoWriMo this year, that’s exactly what I recommend you do too. If you plan your story before you write it, you will end up with a better first draft every single time.

And even if you’re busy this month, you can still make it happen. I’m making NaNoPlanMo even easier for you, with this 15-minute story planning schedule.

There are 20 days left in the month. That means if you worked your way through this list for 15 minutes a day, you’d have spent 300 minutes (or 5 hours) planning your story. Is that enough time to get it perfect? Probably not.

But it is enough time to know the most important information about your story. And since 15 minutes is a small amount of time, you can easily throw in an extra session here and there when you need it.

Here’s a list of story tasks/questions that you can do in 15-minute increments:

  • Brainstorm your idea, Concept and Premise 
  • Refine your Concept (aka: the landscape of your story)
  • Refine your Premise (aka: plot)
  • Who’s your Protagonist? 
  • What does she want in the story?
  • Who’s your Antagonist? 
  • What does he want in the story?
  • Why does he want to oppose your Protagonist? 
  • How does the introduction of the Antagonist create stakes for your Protagonist? 
  • How does the story open?
  • What’s the Hook?
  • What’s your First Plot Point?
  • What’s your Midpoint?
  • What’s your Second Plot Point?
  • What are your two Pinch Points?
  • What needs to happen in Part One (aka: Set Up)
  • What needs to happen in Part Two (aka: Reaction)
  • What needs to happen in Part Three (aka: Attack)
  • What needs to happen in Part Four (aka: Resolution)
  • What’s your theme/message?
  • What are your subplots?
  • Who are your secondary characters?
  • Write up a scene list (multiple 15-minute sessions for this one)
  • Expand on each scene (one 15-minute session per scene)

And there you have it. Your quick-and-easy-get-it-done NaNoWriMo story plan.

Now get to work!

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How do you get your story ready for NaNoWriMo? 

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15 Minute WriterAnd if you want to kick some serious writing ass in only 15 minutes a day (yes, it’s totally possible!), check out my best selling book, The 15-Minute Writer: How To Write Your Book In Only 15 Minutes A Day

Find Your Story Plot By Asking These 7 Questions

Yesterday I had a guest post on my blog (from Janice Hardy) which talked about 5 different ways to plot your story—and here’s the best part—starting wherever you are. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you check it out here.
 
And her article inspired me to tell you about the “Who, What, Why, How of Plot,” which is a series of questions I use to come up with a plot for my stories. Now these questions are just a starting point and barely scratch the surface of all that goes into developing a story.
 
But it’s a starting point, and one that helps me actually move in the right direction.
 
First, here’s the basic definition of plot that I use: a Protagonist who wants something, an Antagonist who opposes what the Protagonist wants, and a journey that ensues because of it. 
 
This goes beyond a story just being “conflict,” which is what I often hear from writers. They’ll say, as long as a story has conflict, tension and drama, that’s enough. And it’s just not true.
 
Because here’s the thing—you can have all the conflict, tension and drama you want, and if you don’t have structure—if you don’t have opposition—you don’t have an actual story. You have an episodic narrative.
 
Opposition—not conflict—is what makes it a story. 
 
The following 7 questions will ensure you have opposition, and not just the day-to-day dramas of a Protagonist’s life:

1. Who is my Protagonist? 

Before you can go any further, you need to know who you’re dealing with here. Who is the Protagonist of your story? Who will step up to save the day, solve the problem, defeat the bad guy and earn the “hero” title by the end? 
 
Your turn: My Protagonist is _______________________________

2 What does my Protagonist want?

Every Protagonist must want something. Desire is a driving force for a story. What does your Protagonist want? 
 
Now keep in mind, what the Protagonist wants may change once the Antagonist gets introduced. Or, the introduction of the Antagonist may raise the stakes on the goal already in play.
 
Your turn: My Protagonist wants _________________________________

3. Who is my Antagonist?

Again, you need to know who you’re working with. So, who is your bad guy? And if your Antagonist is a force (like nature or the government), who can you use to personify that force and create actual flesh-and-blood opposition for your Protagonist? 
 
Your turn: My Antagonist is ___________________________________

4. What does my Antagonist want?

Yes, your Protagonist has desires and so does your Antagonist. What does your Antagonist want?
 
But before you answer that question, you also need to add in question #5…

5. How does what my Antagonist wants oppose what my Protagonist wants?

Hint: if it doesn’t, you must change it so it does. 
 
This is the part where I tell you that you should ignore any and all advice you’ve ever heard that told you to listen to your characters. Your characters are just puppets; you are the puppet master. You must bend and shape your characters to fit the story you want to tell.
 
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT allow your characters to have a ‘say’ in the direction of the story. Ever. 
 
Your turn: my Antagonist wants ____________________ and this opposes what my Protagonist wants because ________________________________.

6. Why does my Antagonist want to oppose my Protagonist?

This is very important—you need to have a compelling reason for why your Antagonist is opposing your Protagonist. In life, people can do things randomly or for no reason at all, but in a story that just doesn’t fly.
 

Your Antagonist wants something very badly and your Protagonist wants something that is an obstacle getting in the way of the Antagonist’s goal, therefore the Antagonist must create opposition.

Your Turn: my Antagonist wants to oppose my Protagonist because ___________________.

7. What is the journey that ensues because of this Antagonist and this opposition?

This is where the story really comes to life. Because now you have opposition. And opposition creates opportunity—for your Protagonist to learn, discover, find out what he’s made of, all while squaring off against a bad guy he needs to defeat in order to get what he wants.

Your turn: the journey that ensues because of the Antagonist and the opposition is __________________________________________________________________. 

 
Just to run through it again, here are the 7 questions:
 
1. Who is my Protagonist? 
2. What does my Protagonist want?
3. Who is my Antagonist?
4. What does my Antagonist want?
5. How does what my Antagonist wants oppose what my Protagonist wants?
6. Why does my Antagonist want to oppose my Protagonist?
7. What is the journey that ensues because of this Antagonist and this opposition?
 
Whew—now that’s what I call a recipe for a plot! 

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What questions do you ask when planning your story? 
 
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And another huge part of creating an engaging story is using your plot to create structure—a series of specific story milestones that happen at specific times and specific places in the story. 

Mastering structure is a big part of being able to write a story worth publishing. 

If you want to master structure, be sure to check out my Master Story Structure Kit, which has everything you need to understand what structure is and how it works; see it in action in actual stories; and then practice your understanding of it by implementing it.

Basically it will help you become a MASTER of story structure, and what emerging novelist couldn’t benefit from that? 

The kit contains:
  • Story Structure Overview (video)
  • The Story Structure Cheat Sheet (PDF)
  • A collection of 11 story deconstructions of movies (and one novel), including: What Women Want, Rudy, Beerfest, Eraser, Cruel Intentions, and If I Stay (PDFs)
  • How To Deconstruct A Movie (Instructional PDF)
  • Movie Deconstruction Worksheet (PDF)
  • Practice Plan (PDF)
There’s only a few more days left to grab a copy for $7. 
 
 
Mastering story structure changed my life and gave me the opportunity to step into a career as a published novelist and a story coach. I still to this day study structure like my life depends on it. 
 
I will always be a student of story, and I hope you’ll join me in that one.

5 Ways to Plot Your Novel 

NOTE: This is a guest post from award-winning author, Janice Hardy. 

I’m fortunate that plotting is a lot of fun for me. Figuring out goals and tough choices for my characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing, and I love putting my characters in impossible situations just to see how they’ll get out if it.

Not every writer has as much fun potting, however, so if you’re a writer who finds plotting more chore than joyride, I’ve discovered a few tricks to make it easier. And hopefully, a little bit more fun.

1. Follow the Problem

Some stories revolve around a major problem that must be solved or else. To solve this big problem, the protagonist must first overcome a series of smaller problems along the way. When we look at what the protagonist has to do at each step, the plot emerges. Most of the major turning points of the plot will be steps to solving this big problem, and they’ll form a logical path from start to finish.

To plot a problem-centric story, start with your core conflict. Think about what caused it, what it’s doing to the main characters and story world, and what has to be done to fix it. Let the problems guide you to your plot and follow the steps that take your characters from the page one problem all the way to the resolution on the final page.

Great for: Writers who like to focus on what happens in the story, and those who find it easier to create the situations of the story first. It’s also good for plot-focused stories where the events are more important than the character journey, such as thrillers or mysteries.

2. Follow the Characters

Since a character’s choices drive the plot, focusing on what she wants and why will lead you through your story. These plots often focus more on how a character grows and changes, and the choices that shape those changes. The major turning points will revolve around your character’s needs and desires, hopes and dreams, and what she does to achieve those needs.

To follow your character, start with the one thing your protagonist wants or needs and think about the things she will (or won’t) do to meet that need. What impossible choices will she face? What will push her to her breaking point? What must she do that she’s never been brave enough to do before?

Great for: Character-driven writers and stories where the focus is on the characters and how they grow. It’s also good for stories with strong character arcs that illustrate themes or explore human nature.

3. Follow the Individual Arcs

If plotting out an entire novel seems daunting, try taking it in smaller chucks. Plots forms arcs—beginning > middle > ending. The steps of the plot follow this same structure, so plotting your novel one small arc at a time allows you to move forward without having to figure out what happens farther into the novel.

If you think about your novel in small story arcs, start with your opening scene (or favorite moment–no one says you have to plot in order). Figure out where that leads and how that problem is solved. Once your protagonist finishes that arc, take the next problem and do the same thing. Look at your various arcs and determine how they link together to tell your larger tale.

Great for: Pantsers who don’t want to know how everything works out ahead of time. It’s also good for writers who imagine their stories in vignettes and prefer to write the scenes that excite them the most first.

4. Follow the Mystery

Some plots exist solely to answer a question, such as, “Who killed the baker?” Exploring the story questions of who, how, and why create the key moments of the plot. The plot exists to reveal a secret or find a truth, and the characters work with–and against–each other to that end.

If you have a mystery plot, start with the mystery and decide what questions the protagonist will have to ask to solve that mystery. Who will she need to talk to? Where will she need to go? What lies might she encounter? What half-truths might distract her?

Great for: Writers who enjoy the puzzle side of plotting, and who want to keep readers in the dark as long as possible. It’s also good for genres such as mysteries or suspense, where the focus in on the mystery more than the characters.

5. Follow the Emotion

For novels that are all about the emotions (such as romances), the plot focuses on the relationships and how the characters interact. The key turning points of the plot will be emotional ones, usually denoting important steps in that relationship or internal growth (or lack thereof).

If you have an emotional story, start with your characters and how they feel, and explore how their emotions will change. Who are the people contributing to their lives? How do those people affect their emotional states? What emotion do they wish to get rid of? How do they want to feel?

Great for: Writers who want to explore relationships and how people interact. It’s also good for romances or any story that seeks to explore an emotional truth.

There’s no right way to write, so don’t worry if your process follows a different path than most. If an aspect of a story appeals to you and inspires you to write that story, let it guide you to the perfect plot the way you like to write.

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What kind of writer are you?

———– 

About the Author: Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy

pynw-2x3Looking for tips on plotting your novel? Check out my book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you develop your idea into a novel. For a hands-on approach, try my Planning Your Novel Workbook.  Revising your novel? Check out my newest book, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft.

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Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Most Important Ingredient in Every Novel (And One Proven Way to Deliver It to Readers)

Note from Jen: This is a guest post from my badass bud, David Villalva. He’s awesome. You need to check out his site here

The epiphany struck in the bathroom.

I stood in front of the mirror as my inner voice revealed I was meant to write novels.

That revelation forced me to unleash the story living inside my head. I wrote everyday by the seat of my pants, and less than a year later, I celebrated the completion of a first draft.

During my first read through, it took me all of a few minutes to realize my story sucked all kinds of suck.

That’s because my story lacked focus. Every character drifted without purpose. Uh oh, I’d written a two-hundred plus page hopeless opus.

This enlightenment encouraged me to start looking into authors who had actually written and published novels. I ended up investing in an author’s lecture series where he asked one simple question:

“What’s the number one thing that readers want in a novel?”

I froze because I hadn’t considered that question. Of course, I knew why I wanted to write my story, but what would future readers want from it?

Did they want my story to inspire them? Educate them? Change them?

The author’s lecture shared the answer, but all I needed to do was look inside the very definition of the word, “story.”

Story (noun): An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Novelists Must First and Foremost Entertain Readers

People want a form of escapism. They’re begging you to transport them into your created world, but it better be entertaining upon arrival.

Because if it falls short of their expectations, they’ll hop back into reality, and look for another novel that offers the right recipe of leisure. (Or cruise Facebook, Twitterest, Instachat, uh, you get the point…)

Quick poll:

  • Why did you read the last novel you purchased or borrowed?
  • Did you read it to be inspired by the author?
  • To be changed?

Come on, you probably read its synopsis, thought it looked fun, and leapt inside. If you got more than entertainment, that was a cherry on top.

Entertainment is the greatest common denominator among fiction readers.

Except far too many emerging novelists misplace the importance of this core ingredient. Heck, even well-known authors end up getting sidetracked during portions of their story.

Ever heard this one about a popular or trending novel? “Just get through the first fifty pages because then it gets really good.”

Do you really want someone talking about your story like that?

Of course not! Your goal is to captivate the reader on page one, and keep them hooked every chapter thereafter.

Fortunately, there’s a proven approach that you can use to increase your chances of giving readers what they want.

Explore the Proven Structure Living Inside Novels

Novels are pieces of art but even the most creative art often comes to life within a proven framework.

We all know that novels have a hook and climax, right? Well, it turns out the hook and climax are just two of the plot milestones inside a novel’s plot structure. There’s also a proven scene structure that moves your readers and characters throughout an overarching plotline.

I recommend emerging novelists explore the principles of story structure for the following reasons:

1. Readers expect to be entertained by a well-designed story.

People subconsciously know stories should have a special rhythm to them.

Readers have been encouraged to receive stories in a certain way because story structure has been infused into novels for decades. So audiences expect to experience plot milestones at specific intervals, meaning plot points occur at well-timed moments to deliver maximum impact.

And then there’s scene structure which helps pace readers to inhale, exhale, process, and absorb all of those special moments in your story.

2. Story structure focuses your ideas.

It’s a beautiful thing to be blessed with exciting story ideas except it can feel like a curse when you’re not sure how to use them.

Story structure can help you arrange your ideas inside a novel’s proven foundation. Don’t worry, this isn’t like painting by numbers because that approach tells you what colors to use. Story structure is more comparable to building a house.

Every house needs a solid foundation to make sure the big bad wolf can’t blow it down. But once that foundation is established, its interior and exterior can be customized in unique ways.

3. Story structure can solidify your mastery of the craft.

You may have instinctively picked up story structure through years of reading and writing.

I was amazed the first time I compared one of my drafts against story structure’s basic principles. That was the moment in my storytelling journey where I became lucid to how the pieces fit.

What if you’re already using some story structure principles without realizing it? Better yet, why not discover if story structure’s full potential can help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world?

Create Your Story With Purpose

People read novels to be entertained. It’s that simple.

So let’s take advantage of a proven approach that helps us give readers the entertainment they’re seeking.

Fortunately, story structure can help you, too! It can focus your ideas, solidify principles you’re instinctively using already, and help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world.

Straight up, story structure isn’t going anywhere. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re open to going anywhere with it.

About the Author: David Villalva helps novelists write stories that connect with readers. Connect with him HERE to receive a free visual guide that illustrates the plot and scene structures used in best-selling novels and screenplays.

Here’s A Scene-Writing Exercise You Should Try

Note: This is a guest post from my client, Stephanie Raffelock, a novelist and blogger. Enjoy!–jen

If I possess the virtue of patience, even a little bit, it is deeply hidden under mounds of enthusiasm that doesn’t want to wait around for anything. But recently, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts that has brought me to the place of making friends with the dreaded “patience.”

I have added a step to my writing process and it is serving me well. It has to do with what to do when you get stuck writing a scene, OR how to prevent getting stuck in the first place.

A Scene Development Exercise

As I began novel number five, I did so under the design of structure. I am a huge fan of structure as it relates to story because story without structure isn’t really a story—it’s a narrative or a portrait at best. At worst, it is a ramble.

Student of story, yes I am, but that does not necessarily make me a patient student and I use that disclaimer as I find the main reason people do not do the work of construction and preparation before they write a single word of prose is because they are eager to just start writing and get on with it!  Writers often fall in love with their words, when they should be falling in love with their story.

I feel your pain. I’ve been there. So what was I thinking when I added another “step” to an already lengthy preparation process?

Here’s what I was thinking:  When you write a story, you must be the God of the world you have created. You must know every detail of the place and every detail of the characters you have placed in it. When you do not know all of the details, you might fall back or rely on coincidence and cliché. The thing about coincidence and cliché is that they strip your story of meaning. They are nasty little buggers.

Recently I started writing my new novel and I did so with preparation. I sketched out my concept and premise, wrote a short synopsis, plugged in the milestones (i.e plot points and pinch points) and then backed out of them into my scenes. I have a 40-plus page detailed scene list.

Now you would think that would be enough, but I keep remembering this thing about being the all-seeing, all-knowing God of the world I’ve created. So when I write, I look at the scene I am doing for that day. I know the mission of the scene. I know what the protagonist wants and what stands in their way. I know how the scene will move the story forward. But, as you know, you can see all of that neatly spelled out for you and still wonder how you are going to create a thousand words out of it.

Enter the Yellow Legal Pad. I’ve just looked at my scene for the day and now I pick up my Yellow Legal Pad and I begin to write down every question and every answer I can think of about that scene. Where is it? What time of day is it, exactly? What kind of watch was he wearing that let you know the time? What did he have for breakfast. How is he feeling. Did he sleep well last night. And I go on and on and on.

Now most of those things will never make it into my story, but after several pages of this, the scene (because I already know how it moves the story forward ) is beginning to flesh out. I circle a few things that inspire and inform, and the rest is just the rest. It gets tossed.

I am the God of the world I created and I know everything about every scene and character and that’s why I can write a good story and that’s how I stay un-stuck.

Why This Works

Writing longhand does an interesting thing to your brain. It uses a different part than typing on a keyboard. It slows you down. And when you are slowed down, you become more thoughtful about your creation.

Think about when you first started writing, I’ll bet you were like me. I’ll bet you filled spiral notebooks with everything from lyrics and poetry to short stories and character sketches. I don’t write much longhand these days. I have two computers and a damn iPad and even email myself to remind myself to do stuff!

But I have fallen in love with the Yellow Legal Pad, and yes, it does deserve to be capitalized. I may buy stock in the Yellow Legal Pad company. A couple of them are always sitting on the table next to me when I write in the morning. And interestingly, I look forward to picking them up and riffing on my plot and my characters.

That’s my new step. A new addition to prep.

I love this Robert McKee quote: “Do the work, tell the truth and the results will follow.” The work that he speaks of is preparation. The truth is about how well you know the character so that cliché never exits their mouth onto your page, and the results, well the result is good, tight professional work.

Adding in this one step to my process is making my prose better and it is helping me to tell the most compelling story that I can. Seemed like it was worth sharing.

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How do you develop the scenes in your story? 

About the Author: Stephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. Her debut novel is represented by Dystel Goderich Literary Management in New York. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter and receive an appreciation gift: “The Writers Dinner,” a unique vision for an entertaining evening. 

Image courtesy of Jonathan Aquino

How To Turn An “Eh” Idea Into A “Gotta Read That” Story

When a blip of inspiration hits you, you have what I like to call an “idea seed.” This isn’t a story, not yet. It’s just an idea that may very well turn into a story.

The problem is, most writers don’t see that. They get the blip of inspiration–write a story about losing love set in the 1930s–and they just sit down and start planning or start writing. But they’ve skipped an entire step in the process.

Before you can turn your idea into a story, you have to develop it.

Your idea needs marination time, it needs to be poked and prodded and questioned. All of this is part of the development process. And it’s how you take an “eh” idea and turn it into a “gotta read that” story.

I’m big on examples, so here’s one from my writing life.

A few months ago, I got an idea seed for a story about a girl who has bad luck with love and who always gets dumped or broken up with, sometimes in an extreme manner (Think: the infamous Carrie Bradshaw Post-it note break up incident).

But how freaking boring is that?!

OK, maybe it’s not totally boring. Maybe some readers in my genre (Chick Lit/Women’s Contemporary Fiction with Romantic Undertones) would be interested in it. But would the majority of readers in my genre?

Probably not.

Would it become a smash-hit bestseller?

Definitely not.

Because there are already a ton of other books out there with a similar storyline. What’s to differentiate this story from all the others?

Most writers don’t think this way, because they believe nonsense like you need to write for yourself and not for anyone else (not true, by the way, unless you only plan on writing for yourself. If you want to be published and get a readership, you need to take your reader into consideration when you’re choosing which ideas are worth writing).

Being a professional writer is about having business sense and knowing what will sell and what won’t. It’s about putting your soul on paper, but doing it strategically and with purpose and intention. 

I think like a pro writer, so I knew right away that my idea seed wasn’t enough. It was just a spark, but I needed the whole fire.

So I sat on it. I let it marinate in my subconscious and I went into my days knowing that if I’m meant to write the story, it will come through to me in a more specific, kick-ass way. (Kinda like the idea of letting a story “chase you” before you write it.)

And, well, not long after that, something came through for this story that was so incredible it actually freaked me out at first. Because I could actually see it becoming a bestseller in my genre. I could see it being turned into a big-screen Hollywood rom-com that grosses millions of dollars at the box office.

It’s scary to think you have a story with that kind of potential.

And what came through to me was this: The Breakup Coach.

A story about a woman who is a “break up coach.” She would actually help people break up with their spouses and significant others. I’m imagining it like “Hitch” in reverse (Hitch, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie about a “love doctor” who helps shy, quiet men get the women of their dreams).

And the differentiator here, the thing that changed this from an “eh” idea into a “gotta read that” story, is Concept. It’s putting something conceptual at the heart of it. (The story still needs a Premise, which I’m working on now.)

It’s taking “a story about a girl who has bad luck with love” and bringing it to a whole new level.

In this case we have character as concept, because her job (being a “break up coach”) is so far out of the realm of what is “normal” or what you’ve seen before that it puts a totally unique spin on things.

Now can you imagine if I had just sat down and started planning (or, even worse, started writing), not truly seeing the big picture or taking the time to develop the spark into an actual fire? I’d have ended up with a much different story. One that wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it’s going to be now that I’ve elevated it to this level by infusing it with Concept.

This is why the story development process is SO important. More so than even the planning process (although that’s super important too). Because without the story development process, you may just end up wasting your time writing the lame story idea that has the potential to really shine if you just gave it the time it needs to become something more.

Patience becomes an important virtue in this case.

I know it’s hard. It’s SO HARD to stop yourself or put the brakes on when you’re burning with an idea that you want to just sit down and start working on. It’s super hard.

But it’s worth it.

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How do you turn your story ideas from “eh” to “amazing?” 

Are you done trying to write a story before it’s ready to be written? Ready for a whole new way of turning an idea into a fully developed story plan? Check out the Story Roadmap Kit

3 Ways to Create A Roadmap For Your Novel

You have likely heard the term “roadmap” before. But have you heard it in relation to your novel?

Maybe. Maybe not.

If you haven’t, here’s a quick intro: a novel roadmap is a gathering of all the scenes you’ll need to write in your story to make it cohesive from beginning to end. 

There are a ton of ways to put one of these things together. But I have three specific ways that are my absolute favorite, go-to, wouldn’t do it any other way. Those are:

1. The Beat Sheet

A beat sheet is a bulleted-pointed list of scenes. Each bullet point equals one scene that needs to be in your story. And you write the bullet points in order, so you have a complete story from start to finish.

Here’s a quick example:

  • Hook: scene that shows antagonism to come
  • Intro Protagonist
  • Show Protagonist living her daily life
  • Intro what’s at stake for the Protagonist
  • Start the subplot love story

Now this is a very generic beat sheet example, and you’d want to be much more detailed when you put yours together. But the idea is getting you to think, specifically, about the scenes you’ll need to set up your story, introduce your core plot (Antagonist plus journey for the Protagonist), show the Protagonist and Antagonist getting stronger and overcoming challenges, and then resolve the story with your Protagonist stepping up to be the hero and defeating the Antagonist.

Here’s some more beat sheet stuff to go even deeper on this method.

2. The Detailed Scene Roadmap (AKA: Story Roadmap)

This is a much more detailed version of the beat sheet. It actually goes deeper into each scene, allowing you to determine not only the mission (aka: purpose) of the scene, but also the time it takes place, the location it takes place in, and any additional notes or information needed to move the story exposition forward.

Here’s an example of what a story roadmap scene can look like (explanation + example):

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.30.42 PM

I like to use this version to get to know my story in a bigger way, and to make sure I’m focused on the mission of the scene (this is mission-driven storytelling, after all).

You can find a complete template for the story roadmap in my self-paced Story Roadmap Kit here.

3. The Story Circles  

This is a method I just learned from my mentor and story coach, Larry Brooks. He uses this exercise as a way to get a bird’s eye view of a story.

What you do for this method is get four sheets of paper (lined or unlined is up to you). Turn the paper vertical and on each page draw 12 circles (either four rows of three circles, or three rows of four circles, up to you).

Next, label the pages: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

Then go back and account for your story structure milestones. Your Hook would be one of the first two circles on the Part One sheet. Your First Plot Point would go on the Part One sheet, written above the very last circle on the page (bottom-right). Your Midpoint would go on the Part Two sheet, written above the very last circle on the page (bottom-right). Same goes for your SPP, but put that one on the sheet marked Part Three.

Now you’ve got an idea of where all your story milestones need to land.

Using this document, you can go through and actually use each circle to mark a scene in your story. Of course you may end up having more than just the 12 scenes accounted for on each page. In that case, you’ll just need to add more (or less) circles to accommodate.

And there you have it. Three very simple, yet powerful ways to figure out the scenes in your novel.

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Which of the three story roadmap methods is your favorite? 

Want a template for the Beat Sheet, Story Roadmap and the Story Circles? Join the Students of Story membership site, where you’ll find these three resources and more to help you develop, create, plan and write your novel.